Article abstract: Lewis Carroll wrote stories and poems that fundamentally changed and enlivened children’s literature. He also pioneered children’s photography and published books that advanced the fields of logic and mathematics.
Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who was born in Daresbury, Cheshire, England, on January 27, 1832. His father, Charles Dodgson, had given up his fellowship and lectureship in mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford University, to marry Frances Jane Lutwidge in 1827. Carroll was the first son of their eleven children. The family lived in Daresbury, where Carroll’s father was parish curate, until 1843. Carroll showed an early talent for mathematics, cultivated by his father, and comic verse. Growing up in a close-knit upper-middle-class family, living in a secluded village, and deeply influenced by a stern but doting father, Carroll found childhood a time of innocent exploration and wonder, a view that colored his later literary works.
In 1844 Carroll attended a grammar school in Yorkshire, and in 1846 he went on to Rugby, one of England’s leading private schools. Instructors at both schools helped him develop his mathematical and literary talents, but he disliked boarding away from his family. At Rugby the often harsh discipline administered by older students especially repelled him. For the rest of his life he disliked boys. At home on vacations, he helped his father teach in the local school, was a leader in games (many of which he invented), and wrote poetry and stories for magazines that he issued to amuse family and friends. These early poems were usually parodies of moralistic verse common in the early nineteenth century, and he explored several themes that appeared in his mature writing: violence, dreams and nightmares, family relationships, and the child’s view of a bewildering adult world.
Carroll was a brilliant student. He won a scholarship to Christ Church, his father’s alma mater. Like his father, he won a first in mathematics, the highest scholastic distinction for an undergraduate, and was awarded a fellowship even before he earned his bachelor of arts degree in 1854. The fellowship provided him a yearly stipend and rooms at Christ Church for life. He was appointed a lecturer in mathematics in 1855 and took vows as an Anglican deacon in 1861, becoming the Reverend C. L. Dodgson. From then on he dressed in black clerical clothes almost exclusively. A stammer made him shy of public speaking, and his clean-shaven boyish features, thick dark hair, and retiring manner made him seem ethereal to some contemporaries.
Using his birth name, Dodgson began to attract attention as a comic poet soon after earning his degree by publishing in newspapers and magazines some of the poems that he later incorporated into his children’s books. In 1856 he published his first work under the name Lewis Carroll, an anagram of the latinized form of his first two names. The same year, he met Alice Pleasance Liddell, the daughter of Christ Church’s dean, and took up photography. These interests—literature, photography, and Alice—blended to produce the most creative period of his life during the next twenty years.
Carroll remained a fellow at Christ Church for the rest of his life. He never married; in fact, the terms of his fellowship forbade it. He devoted himself to tutoring, lecturing, and performing religious and administrative duties at the college, but such work could not use up his creative energy, and he also pursued social and cultural interests outside his academic work.
Carroll was fastidious and almost obsessive with details, and he loved gadgets. Photography was ideally suited to him. At the time he took it up in 1856, it was a cumbersome art with bulky equipment. The photographer had to smear a glass plate with a colloid and dip it into silver nitrate, insert the plate into the camera, expose it for as much as a minute, and then develop the plate in a darkroom. During the exposure the subject had to stay perfectly still. Carroll soon mastered the techniques and tested his skill on architectural subjects and celebrities. Among those he photographed were the poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson; the poet-painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti; and Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Prince Leopold.
Photography was a means for Carroll to enter intellectual society and make friends. He soon ingratiated himself with parents by photographing their children. Although he occasionally photographed boys, he preferred girls. He believed that girls of about ten to fourteen years of age epitomized innocent beauty. Carroll told the girls stories or posed riddles of his own invention to put them at ease, dressed them in romantic costumes, and carefully posed them. Sometimes he...
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